Charles Townsend is the most “prudent” hero of the novel The Painted Veil. He was Assistant Colonial Secretary in Hong Kong. Charlie was probably the most popular man in the colony. He played tennis, polo and golf. He kept racing ponies. He never let red tape interfere with him. He put on no airs. He always left an impression of very conceited person. Kitty, the main heroine of the novel, was introduced to him when she went to dine with her husband Walter Fane at the Townsends` place. That day Charlie made her laugh, he spoke to her about everything in his deep, rich voice, a delightful expression in his kind, shining blue eyes, which made Kitty feel very much at home with him. Of course, he had a charm. That was what made him so pleasant. He was tall, six foot two at hast and he had a beautiful figure; he was evidently in very good condition and he had not a spare ounce of fat on him. He was well-dressed, his face was deeply sunburned. Kitty liked the little trim curly moustache which did not conceal his full red lips. He had black hair, short and brushed very sleek. But, of course, Townsend`s eyes were his best feature: they were so blue, and they had a laughing tenderness which persuaded Kitty of the sweetness of his disposition.
She had never been in love before. It was wonderful. And now that she knew what love she felt was a sudden sympathy for the love that Walter bore her. She adored Charles. She did not believe that there was anything he couldn`t do. As for Walter Fane, he knew everything about the relations between Kitty and Charlie Townsend but he did not show it. When his wife asked him why he hadn`t tried to thrash Charles and break into the room when he knew that she was there with Townsend, Walter said that he was too proud to fight. He was very clever. Dr. Fane promised his wife to bring an action for divorce if he got a written promise from Charlie to marry Kitty within a week. He was absolutely right and sensitive in his actions because when Charles knew about everything he tried to persuade Kitty that he was in love with her but he was very keen on his career and that his wife Dorothy would never let him down.
Walter knew what Charlie was and what he would do. In Mei-Ten-Fu Kitty tried not to think of Charles, but love lingered in her heart. She still loved a man, whose worthlessness was so clear for her at that moment. Then one day it occurred to her that she had neither thought of Charles Townsend nor dreamt of him for a week. She was cured. She could think of him with indifference. She loved him no longer. Kitty felt a relief and the sense of liberation. And then, considering his calmly, she wondered what on earth she had seen in him. She had difficulty in calling up his features to her imagination. The love of him passed out her heart. After Walter`s death, in Hong Kong, Kitty thought that there would be no need to see Townsend. She would like to see him once more in order to tell him what a despicable creature she thought him.
She felt freedom from love that had degraded her. But when the circumstances made her stay at the Townsends` place with Charles and his wife Dorothy, something changed. Before her coming to Hong Kong, Kitty had built in her mind a very vivid impression of Charlie. His thick curling hair was greying and there was too much oil on it, his face was too red. She imagined his fat figure and hard movements. But when she finally saw him she could hardly help laughing at herself. He might have been a young man, he was admirable and handsome. It was almost impossible not to be moved by him. Kitty was with Charlie, she made this mistake again. It was horrible. She thought that she could never look him in the face. She believed that he had been right not to marry her because she was worthless.